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The fall of Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen

Four top-five N.L. MVP seasons, one N.L. MVP award, five-time N.L. All-Star, four Silver Slugger awards and one Gold Glove. The accomplishments read as almost a prerequisite for greatness in the majors. But even though it was as little as two years ago that he garnered an All-Star appearance and a Silver Slugger, Andrew McCutchen is far removed from his glory days.

Gone are the All-Star appearances, the Silver Sluggers, the MVP discussions. In their place are trade rumors and position changes, as a former star tries to adjust to his diminished skillset.

But how did the man who resurrected baseball in Pittsburgh become expendable?

An up and down 2016

Andrew McCutchen
The 2016 season was a roller coaster ride for Andrew McCutchen (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Many look at Andrew McCutchen’s 2016 season, compare it to his career, and call it a “down season”. And while that may be true, when you look closer, the numbers tell a different story.

Andrew McCutchen is a notoriously slow starter, and 2016 was no different. But even with a .226 batting average at the end of April, his 115 OPS+ was still respectable.

He seemed to be finally turning it on in May, when he hit .284 and posted a 119 OPS+. All signs pointed to McCutchen getting hot, that is until the calendar turned to June.

McCutchen hit a miserable .202 in June with a paltry 52 OPS+. The month of June is really what brought McCutchen’s numbers down.

Whether it was fatigue or an undisclosed injury or just the randomness of baseball, June 2016 was the worst we had ever seen Andrew McCutchen play.

Even so, he picked it up after June, hitting .247 in July and posting a 91 OPS+. While still a low number, it was a stark improvement from June.

And once July ended, the Andrew McCutchen of old seemed to return. A .280 batting average in August helped him earn a 119 OPS+, and set him up for a monster end of the season.

In September and October, McCutchen hit .287 with six home runs, 22 RBIs and a 141 OPS+. Gong by the last few months of the season, it seemed McCutchen had returned to form, and gave some glimmer of hope for the 2017 season.

But an offseason of trade rumors and a position change left McCutchen in flux, and the doubts of his performance again began to crop up. Any tempered optimism that fans had in regards to McCutchen’s 2017 season were dashed once the games began to rack up.

Rock bottom: The 2017 season

While the calendar has just turned to June, the performance of Andrew McCutchen so far has left much to be desired. Those who called his 2016 season a downfall have only had their points enforced by his play this season.

In 52 games, McCutchen has hit .223 and posted an 86 OPS+. Some thought that a return to center field would provide a spark for McCutchen. But in his 38 games played in center field for the suspended Starling Marte, McCutchen has done little to show a return to form.

Many have speculated the cause for McCutchen’s decline, and I will add to that speculation. When looking at the advanced metrics, one thing stood out to me more than any other: a sign of declining speed. McCutchen had always been known for his blend of power and speed, and even though he hit .256 last season, he still hit 24 home runs.

That is right in line with his 162 game average of 24 per year. But his legs seem to be giving out on him, causing his overall performance to decline.

Explaining McCutchen’s decline

Andrew McCutchen
A decline in speed may be the culprit behind McCutchen’s decline (Dylan Buell/Getty Images).

One statistic I saw a major drop in was his BABIP. With a career .328 BABIP, the .247 mark posted this season by McCutchen is well below his usual performance.

BABIP can be impacted by a number of factors, one being the speed of a player. It can be reasoned that the faster a player, the better chance he has at beating out a throw to first for a base hit. And that was something that McCutchen excelled at.

With a 9.2 percent infield hit rate, McCutchen was able to beat out ground balls for base hits. But this season, McCutchen’s 3.1 percent infield hit rate is vastly lower than his career mark.

With a lower infield hit percentage this season compared to his career, it seems that his speed has sorely diminished. And when you take into account his stolen base numbers, it becomes even more evident.

From 2009-2015, McCutchen averaged 22 stolen bases per season. In 2016, that number dropped to six stolen bases. He was also caught stealing seven times last season. The decline in stolen bases was a precipitous one, but only part of the decline of Andrew McCutchen’s game.

But at only 30 years old, it remains to be seen if the former MVP can adjust to playing the game with a diminished skill set.

 

Feature image by Jim Mcisaac, Getty Images.

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